Descriptive writing has been given a bad name in recent years. To the point that many self-proclaimed modern novelists have decided they may dispense with it. Because what everyone wants, they insist, is a fast-paced story. A thriller. Something to grab the reader by the throat.
Well, pardon me, but I don’t necessarily wish to be grabbed–by the throat or elsewhere. Or smacked. Or otherwise physically assaulted by strangers. Or even by my friends.
Call me picky if you will.
Descriptive writing, these nouvelle know-alls of le dernier-cri proclaim, clogs the action, slows the reader down, it isn’t relevant, it doesn’t matter, it’s old-fashioned…
Well, since this is my blog, I shall give you my opinion on all that: Poppycock!
(Think, if you will, of Miss Haversham’s dining room in Great Expectations and tell me that isn’t powerful!)
Because descriptive writing is one of the writer’s greatest tools. Done well, it can also be a writer’s most subtle art. Well-written, well-chosen, well-considered descriptive writing about place can perform so many tasks…
First and foremost, of course, it is the ultimate magic phonebox for transporting the reader to the place of the novel’s action. But also, by allowing the reader to see what the characters see, you have given him a hand up into understanding the character’s inner workings.
A few other–perhaps minor but perhaps not–things which descriptive writing about place can offer are context; it can set atmosphere and tone; it positions the narrator; it sets the time or period without the author rigidly defining it; it can set broad themes…and not forgetting the poet’s favourite–it’s there for imagery.
I personally love it.
Though it isn’t always easy to write, or to write well. But I do believe it offers as nothing else does the opportunity for the writer to invite the reader into the characters’ heads, allowing the reader to see and feel as do the characters and imagine themselves into the room, into that world.
So there you have it.
And in case you’re interested, this is where a couple of my characters are today. (Nice? Or perhaps not.) Ha ha ha.